Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Dispatch From the Country of the Blind

It can be difficult to define what is “libertarian” because it would mostly be a list of negatives. (It's no accident that Ron Paul was known as “Dr. No” during his time in Congress.) But what is anti-libertarian? In the broad-brush sense, it's any political world view that puts government first and people – i.e. individuals, not “the people”, which is another word for government – second, or not at all. It includes both communism and fascism, as well as what I call suffocating socialism – i.e., socialism with a veneer of law and order – and even humanism -- but with a firm totalitarian underpinning (sort of like what we're starting to see in Canada and Australia). People are oppressed not so much by guns, prisons, and internment camps (although those may be present) as by laws and regulations that impact every aspect of their lives, no matter how trivial. This would include the American-style socialism that was created by the Progressives but reached full fruition with the New Deal, as well as postwar European-style socialism which has had, let's say, its ups and downs. Europe is still committed to socialism on the fundamental level, but its implementation goes through various cycles, accompanied by disputes and controversies. They go through cycles of reform, then reform of the reform, then reform of that reform, ad infinitum, but never seem to learn any lessons.

Our form of socialism has morphed from the relatively “pure” type represented by the New Deal into what I will call “soft fascism” -- i.e. control of the economy, and therefore (by necessity) the political system, by financial entities, both domestic and international (given that there is even a difference, which is doubtful). The fact that soft fascism doesn't involve mass rallies, torches, uniforms with a lot of leather, and goose-stepping parades doesn't make it any less fascism. What it means is that it's less obvious... more subversive... sneakier.   Another way of putting it is that, in the old days, fascism had to be presented as a political system where government was still in charge, with business being subordinate.  Now we've decided we no longer need that illusion, and government is openly subservient to business.

When Americans wake up, on occasion, to the fact that every meaningful political, economic, and social decision has been taken out of their hands when they weren't looking, that's when they feel the cold chill of fascism – but it's quickly forgotten in the wake of government handouts and entitlements and the contemporary equivalent of “games and circuses” (think NASCAR, the NFL, NBA, entertainment media, computer games and gadgets, etc.).

And you might say, “Whaddaya complaining about? Life (at least in this country) is no longer 'nasty, brutish and short', and the stock market is at an all-time high,” etc. Well, it's true enough that life is now, for most people, only mildly annoying, a bit dangerous at times, but longer than ever. And that's the point – or one of the points. We've been overcome by blandness. We are so far from our own revolution that we've completely lost any concept of what revolution is – the excitement, the fervor, the willingness to sacrifice. Ron Paul's campaign was called “The Ron Paul Revolution” (with the 2nd through 5th letters reversed to spell “love”) because it was, indeed, a revolution – not in the physical or violent sense but in the sense of consciousness – of awareness. As such, it was every bit as radical, if not more so, than the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which changed the world view of many but didn't make much of a dent in the true, underlying power structure. Rich white men ruled back then, and they continue to rule today – and the primary instrument of their rule is not “cut-throat competition” and “capitalism”, but government. Economic freedom is enjoyed by those at the top of the heap, and the rest of us have to be satisfied with our status as faceless, gray serfs. And granted, this does not differ significantly from the socio-economic structure of either communism or fascism.  But at least under “classical” fascism, the middle class had a place and a function, although it was tightly supervised and controlled – more so than the “proles”. Under the new fascism, the middle class has no more place than it does under communism; the only question is how quickly, and by which specific means, to eliminate it. For us, it's not about forbidding people to own property per se – or to be consumers. It's more about making it more and more difficult to save money, or to hold onto money that is saved. And it's also about making it more and more difficult to start small businesses, and to remain in business. Please note that large corporations run around sucking up small businesses like some sort of giant Roomba. The regulatory and tax structure is overwhelmingly tilted in favor of the largest entities, and works directly against the small ones. When you wake up one morning and find that everything you eat, drink, wear, drive, use, listen to, watch, feel, touch... is all under the control of one giant international corporation, you will know that a milestone has been reached. (On the plus side, there will be no more need for advertising, any more than there was in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany. Propaganda, yes – ads, no.)

There's another aspect to all of this, and it's a product of this deadly combination of helplessness and cradle-to-grave security. I call it “societal anorexia”. It is not natural for man to be rendered helpless when it comes to his own life – his successes and failures and the decisions that lead to them. And it's not natural for him to be treated like a baby or retarded adult all his life – as someone who is incapable of making any important decisions and would be a "danger to society” if he did. So what is his reaction to this? We know that in the case of anorexia, women react to helplessness in the face of exploitation and abuse by asserting their choices and power in the only way available – namely by not eating. If everyone (or so it seems to them) has complete power their bodies, they'll show them that they don't, by not eating even to the point of starvation. Well, when you render an entire society helpless except for the ruling elite, they push back in odd ways. Their span of control shifts from society in general (Why bother voting?) to their immediate environment, and when that fails to themselves, and not even to the aspect of themselves that interfaces with the rest of society but by something that they alone can control and manipulate. So we get radical tattooing, piercing, people redoing their facial and body structure... things that go way beyond the self-assertion via hair and clothes that characterized the hippie era. If you can't have any impact on your environment, and if you're fair game for whoever wants to come along and intervene in your life, then the only option is to reinvent yourself – again, not at the interface (which is a lost cause) but physically. So I don't blame these people; they are reacting the only way they know how. Call it ill-advised, weird, pathetic, whatever – but I understand it, because the alternative is annihilation... being sucked into the machine like in “The Wall” and turned into lean finely textured beef, AKA pink slime. And of course the people who witness their futile antics shake their heads and wonder what their “problem” is. And – the tattooed, pierced hordes shake their heads back because they know what the problem is, and the squares don't.

The election of 2016 now seems to be looming on the horizon – at least according to the media. And in the midst of it all, breathing fire and crushing everything in her path, is the political Godzilla, namely Hillary Clinton. The supposed inevitability of her nomination and election makes any efforts the Republicans make seem silly and pathetic – like, why don't they just give up now? Hillary could be elected by popular acclaim, thus even eliminating the need for an formal election (and campaigning, and political ads – hmmm, not a bad idea when you come to think about it).  She could place the empress' crown on her own head, the way Napoleon did, with Bill smirking in the background.

And among the Republican “field” stands Rand Paul, who is invariably called a “libertarian” by.... well, by pretty much everyone but libertarians. The problem with Rand is that, unlike his father, he doesn't seem to have a deep understanding of libertarian principles. In other words, he is more a politician than a theorist. He says a lot of the right words, but wanders off the reservation a bit too often, in my opinion; he can be seduced, at least to some extent, by politics and “pragmatism”, whereas Ron Paul, as far as I know, never was. What it means is that it's a bit ironic for the mainstream Republicans to be having conniptions about this “radical” libertarian in their midst, when he really isn't – although compared to them, I supposed anybody with even the vaguest concept of individual freedom is going to seem like a radical. So, bottom line, if he in fact runs for the nomination and loses (which would be inevitable) it's no great loss for libertarianism. It would be better, in fact, if he were to stay where he is and, as I said, say the right things at least enough of the time to get people's attention (and their irrational reactions, which give away the hollowness of their position).

Having even a quasi-libertarian in the midst of the Republican Party is no less anachronistic than if he were in the midst of the Democratic Party. Each party gets things right on rare occasions, and totally wrong the rest of the time. I find myself agreeing with radical leftists more often than with the bland middle... and I even agree with the Neocons once in a while (based on what they say, not on what they actually believe). But I think that if our society is to survive in any meaningful way, and not morph into a blob of green slime out of some horror movie, the only thing that will save it is libertarianism in government – AKA Constitutional “originalism” -- combined with charity and tolerance on the part of individuals. You can't have a decent government if the citizens don't give a damn... and you can't have a decent society made up of people -- regardless of how charitable or good-intentioned they are – who are ruled over by evil men. People think of government as a one-way street, which it is in our time – all of the energy moves in a downward direction. But society, on the other hand, has to be a two-way street in order to function. This country was imagined, and organized, as a society, but has, over time, become a two-class system of rulers and ruled (with the middle class deluding themselves as to which class they belong in). It may be “soft” still, but there is no rule – nothing on the books – that requires it to remain that way, and plenty of sectors of our society have found themselves on the receiving end of actions that are anything but “soft”. That fact that prisons constitute a significant sector of the economy should tell you something; we are gradually moving toward a point where there are the “done to” and the “doers-to”, and no truly free men.

And as I've said before, perhaps this is only the natural product of societal evolution. Perhaps, like any organism, a given society has only so many years to grow and prosper, after which decline and death are inevitable. In that case, it's our bad luck to be around during the decline, although I imagine it will get much worse before things hit bottom. On the other hand, predictions of the demise of any society, nation, or system can be premature; cultures have a strange way of muddling through and showing surprising survivability – based, I would say, on cultural habits and values rather than governmental structures and laws. This may yet give us time to repent and mend our ways (dream on!), but what is more likely is that the system will collapse of its own weight (as opposed to being conquered in the military sense), not unlike what happened to the Soviet Union. And yet, there is always someone left... someone survives... and let's hope that they at least have a sense of history.

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